They were the No. 1 seed going into the postseason. They carded a 27-5 overall record and were coming off of three consecutive Sac-Joaquin Section championships.
Nonetheless, when the Blue Devil girls water polo squad emerged from the pool on Saturday with the program’s 10th title, it ended a fall that most schools would have considered a rebuilding year … and a campaign that required some TLC over the course of the season.
“In high school, you get what you get (each year),” Davis High head coach Doug Wright said of his talent-laden 2012 squad. “After that, it’s pretty much a chess game.”
After graduating a handful of college-level players last June, Wright understood his new crop would be formidable — Mara Dominguez, Colby Stapleton, Heather Johnson and Alicia Demaree were among the emerging cast — but he also knew the team wasn’t as tight-knit as some of his past champions.
Not a team divided, just girls from different social circles …
“This was the kind of year where we had to have some rough moments to kind of work through things,” admitted Wright, in his 17th season at the helm. “I thought, in the end, people were willing to understand that they don’t need to love each other in class or outside of school, but … need to come together in the pool, work with each other and love each other as a team.
“For the most part, we did that.”
In beating St. Francis, 9-8, in the title game, Wright said he was proud of how his girls grew together. He said he understood how the girls came from different groups of friends and how different it can be when a man coaches girls.
Wright said it is “an ongoing experience” to identify what is important to some of his team members:
“Sometimes guys have a hard time coaching girls. Over the years, I think I’ve come to understand the (difference). If a girl on my team thinks something is a big deal, it probably is … because they’re smart. I have to find out what it is that’s such a big deal.”
Wright invested much time talking individually with his Blue Devils. He said there was some contraction along the way — three girls left the team after deciding the sport or commitment time wasn’t for them.
“You have to trim a rose bush down a little bit to get some new blooms,” Wright told The Enterprise. “I remember what (soccer coach) Ashley Yudin once told me: ‘I’ve coached a lot of good teams. I’ve had teams come together and not win a championship. But I’ve never had teams not come together and win a championship.’ ”
Wright said his girls galvanized in a nick of time.
“Our goal was to win a section title … and they knew at the (beginning) they had some work to do,” Wright added.
From early on, DHS (and its reputation) dominated regional tournament and league pools. Powerhouse St. Francis, including the title match, fell four times to the Devils in 2012.
Down the stretch, Davis rolled through the first three rounds of the playoffs until — by the coach’s admission — it was outplayed for 3 1/2 periods by the Troubadours last week.
But the Devils came from two goals down to win.
Wright smiles when he looks back on the play that resulted in the game-tying goal.
“This is a beautiful thing,” said the former UC Davis standout player. “We called time out. I thought we had a power play (which DHS didn’t) and I’m drawing something up … the girls are looking at me like the old man’s lost it.”
Back on the attack, the Blue Devils understood their situation — equal strength, down a goal and the game nearing an end.
Assistant coach (and former Blue Devil and Aggie) Ariel Feeney received Wright’s praise for what she had taught the girls during the season as Dominguez and Company took what St. Francis gave them.
“We ran a loop play, not what I had called,” Wright said, laughing. “Mara went around Colby, we got the ball to her, she got a good look and scored. During the timeout we didn’t talk about that at all. It’s a (Aggie coach Steve) Doten play that Ariel learned at UCD.
“When the girls went out there and set up, I thought ‘Oh, wow. That’s pretty cool,’ even though I had no idea of what was going on.”
Wright said the play was something the girls worked on every day in practice. Dominguez’s goal set the stage for Stapleton’s title-winning shot with 14 seconds left and validated the coach’s assessment:
“When you look back, this team came together.”
Notes: Sophomore Stapleton and junior Johnson have been submitted by the Sac-Joaquin Section for All-American consideration after both made all-section Division I first-team honors. Blue Devil co-captain Lauren Owens also was accorded top SJS billing. Dominguez and Demaree were second-team members and Katie Van Deynze earned honorable mention status. St. Francis attacker Kaitlyn Cozens was named MVP and, along with other first-teamers Kaitlyn Thompson (Del Oro) and Lexi Chandler (St. Francis), is a Davis Water Polo Club member. In fact, 16 of the 17 goals in Saturday’s title tilt were scored by DWPC players.
— Reach Bruce Gallaudet at [email protected] or 530-747-8054.